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System of Dress – How to Dress for Any Cycling Conditions
If getting dressed for a ride has ever felt like…
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If getting dressed for a ride has ever felt like solving an advanced algebra equation, know that you’re not alone. There are many more days a year when the weather deviates from that narrow window of riding perfection, and knowing how to dress for any cycling conditions is key to keeping consistent time in the saddle. Maybe it’s 50 degrees but the humidity is higher than usual for your area. Or, it’s in the lower 40s with a slight breeze, but you’re doing a socially-paced coffee ride. Or, it’s bone-chillingly cold but you’ve got intervals planned. What to wear? Many of us have struggled with maintaining comfort while balancing riding effort with seasonal shifts in temps and conditions. Backed by years of testing in all weather, we designed our System of Dress to help guide you through kit decisions. It’s a process of evaluation based on the main variables you need to factor in before setting off and it’s a tool we hope you can reliably turn to, any day of the year.

The System of Dress Process

First, determine how humid is it for the temperature outside (especially important during cooler and cold weather). Next, what are the expected conditions with regards to precipitation or wind? Last, what is your planned level of effort and how will that affect the amount of insulation you need once you get going? Together, the answers to these questions will determine your innermost, against-the-skin layer, what kind of protection you’ll need from an outermost layer (if any), and any additional thermal mid-layers for extra insulation.

Sounds simple right? The key is to combine the right layers—and the right materials—to balance protection with breathability. Start with your baselayer, move to the outer layer, and (if needed) add a mid-layer.

Onto the details:

Don’t let winter weather keep you indoors.

1. INNERMOST LAYER

Depending on your location, a Two-Plus layering strategy will be sufficient for three seasons of the year (with summer being the exception). Centered around an innermost and an outermost layer, with the potential for a middle layer, a Two-Plus system can accommodate a range of riding conditions.

Just like a steadfast athlete, it’s important to have a solid base to build upon. Baselayers come in varying weights and materials, with the materials being the most important element to consider as the fabric construction is responsible for efficiently moving heat and moisture away from the skin.

Knowing the properties of how polyester, Merino wool, and blended fibers work can allow you to choose the best option for the situation at hand.

A Few Example Scenarios

For a lovely, cool but dry day (think a brisk fall day in the Mountain West), reach for a polyester-based Transfer Baselayer to wick moisture away from the skin, so that it can evaporate into the dry air through an outer layer.

Another fitting situation for a synthetic baselayer is a shorter, high output, sweat-inducing workout—a climbing heavy ride, or harder effort on the flats, but one that’s not so long that you’ll have time to cool off. Again, polyester fibers will allow the fabric to transfer that moisture away from the body efficiently where it can then evaporate. Additionally, polyester gives a small amount of insulation from cooler temps by creating a buffered microclimate near the skin, but without causing you to overheat.

Alternatively, what if it’s cool and humid out (picture a foggy New England morning)? The increased moisture in the air is going to hinder the evaporation process even as your sweat is shifted away from the body, from baselayer to outer or mid layer. In this scenario, a Merino wool baselayer will pull the moisture away from the skin, trapping it within its fibers while still providing an insulating buffer from external chill. The natural properties of Merino wool allow this magic material to provide insulation even when wet, resulting in less evaporative cooling (or heat loss). We did some homework on this to make sure.

Merino also shines under variable workloads. When your effort changes often on rolling hills, the wool will maintain a more consistent buffer to keep you comfortable.

Finally, for the frostiest rides turn again to Merino. Because Merino wool naturally stays warm when wet, and is more insulating than polyester, it’s your best bet for combatting the chilling clamminess that comes from working in cold conditions.

Cool / Dry / High Workload dry → Transfer Baselayer

Cool / Humid / Variable Workload → Merino Baselayer

COLD → Merino Thermal Baselayer

When you get to the top of the climb and need protection from the wind of a fast descent.
The Summit Shell Jacket packs up small enough to go with you on any ride.
It can certainly be dry and cold in the winter.

3. OUTERMOST LAYER

The outer layer’s job is to provide protection against the elements namely, cold, wind, or precipitation. If none of these are a concern, your outermost layer can be just a jersey.

When deciding which jacket to grab on the way out the door, consider the precipitation and actual wind speed. Depending on direction, the wind speed will feel amplified as you create resistance through riding.

If it’s mild to cool outside with a bit of wind, packing a light wind jacket should be all you need. The best wind shells are light and packable for easy stowing if you do get too warm. Alternatively, regulate your core with two-way zippers to keep those stationary, wind-catching arms well protected. For extra insurance, our Barrier fabric has a water repellency treatment for protection against light bouts of precipitation.

When the clouds are sharing their bounty in the form of rain, a WxB Jacket, (and even rain pants) are going to be your ideal outer layer. WxB is a breathable waterproof fabric with fully taped seams to keep you dry even in heavy showers. With total protection from rain and wind, our WxB treatment still provides enough breathability to allow the vapor your body is creating to escape. Because, nobody wants to feel like they’re riding in a garbage bag.

Of course, there will be days when the weather is just not inviting. Riding in the biting cold, or even snow, can be daunting but remember it’s not impossible to still get out for a worthwhile ride. Our AmFIB technology is the material of choice to shield you from a wide range of cold-to-coldest conditions. With windproof and water-resistant multi-layer protection, and a breathable membrane, you can set off with the confidence that you’ll be protected from the frostiest temps. Please note that while AmFIB has a water resistant treatment, these pieces are not designed to be waterproof. A garment needs to be fully tapped at the seams to win waterproof approval. We still recommend this technology in snow, because as an often drier form of precipitation, while it might melt on parts of your kit snow doesn’t penetrate like rain.

Riding in the rain in the Pacific Northwest wearing the Summit WxB Jacket and WxB Shell Short.
Taking a break during a soggy road ride in the ELITE WxB Jacket.
Even a wet road can be a beautiful thing.

Cold → Thermal Softshell (SELECT & ELITE Levels)

Wind → Barrier

Rain → WxB

Variable Conditions → PRO AmFIB

Nothing in particular → Thermal Jersey

The PRO AmFIB Shell is our most technical outer layer and also our most versatile. If you’re going to invest in one garment, make sure this is it.
The Women’s PRO AmFIB shell is a three-season foul weather piece that we consider weatherproof, thanks to our proprietary PI DRY® treatment.

2. MID-LAYER

Selecting a mid-layer will be the most personalized part of the equation and will depend on a couple of factors. Consider the temperature and your expected level of exertion. If the temperature is not super cold, rocking the proper baselayer with an AmFIB softshell might be all you need, but not always.

A Few Example Scenarios

It’s a bit colder and you’re not planning on riding all-out in Zone 4—you may want to incorporate some mid-layer insulation to stay comfortable. Adding a “summer weight” long sleeve jersey over that baselayer might do the trick, but if you tend to run a little colder, adding a full-fledged thermal jersey is another option. A thermal jersey employs highly breathable and quick-drying fabrics so you can maintain that Goldilocks level of warmth while riding.

Alternatively, assume you are going out for some tempo or interval work, and it’s a bit chilly out. In this instance, you may have to temporarily endure a chilly start with just a jersey (“summer weight” or thermal) over a baselayer and no outer layer. Every seasoned rider knows that overheating means sweat and too much sweat means cold.

If it’s truly frigid, flakes are swirling, and you need all the warmth you can get reach for a PRO Merino Thermal jersey. As our warmest jersey, the merino construction provides the most insulation for higher humidity days and in dry, cold climates. Merino tolerates higher humidity due to its ability to offer warming insulation, even while wet. For low humidity, cold riding thermal fleece is the fastest wicking, allowing your perspiration to easily evaporate through your outerwear.

COLD with precipitation → Thermal layer under outermost layer

Cool without precipitation → Possibly a thermal as outermost layer.

If it’s cool, but not cold, and dry a thermal jersey will work very well with a baselayer.
There are a few thicknesses in thermal tops as well, to help tune the warmth you need for the ride.

Keep in mind that these are our guidelines. The PEARL iZUMi Ride 365® System of Dress uses the Two-Plus layering strategy as a starting point, in hopes of guiding riders in the process of matching baselayer, outer layer and (maybe) mid-layer to the general weather outside. Understanding how materials work together is key to preparing for any cycling conditions, but the only way to really know what works for you is to get out there a ride!

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14 thoughts on “System of Dress – How to Dress for Any Cycling Conditions

  1. Geat writeup Joshua! I really appreciate the thought that went into this. Here in the upper Midwest we love to ride all year. Temperatures are often well below zero (F) with very little moisture in the air. Layering is key to success, and as you point out, once you get the formula figured out you can comfortably ride in any temperature! Pedal on!

  2. I have been riding for a long time and no one had ever explained intended use of each material. I just went out there and gritted it out. No more of that! Thank you for sharing this information. Helps a lot.

    • Hey Josh, can you give me a little more about riding type, effort, and conditions? Happy to give you my perspective, but mine is certainly not the only one. Thanks

  3. Living in central Florida, my jacket use is mostly for summer rain and/or winter (45deg +) outer shell. In summer, I would wear it for a short time only as most rain that I would ride in is short lasting, so just need it light enough to not bake at high humidity. What fits that Rx?

    • Hi George, that Florida weather is certainly a challenge for most traditional apparel. In your use-case here, you could still go with a wool short sleeve baselayer–as wool works well in heat despite the notion of it being too warm–with your typical Interval or PRO jersey. Then for when it does spit on your ride for a short time, consider using one of our newest jackets featuring PI Dry®.

      The reimagined Zephrr (long sleeve jacket or pair the vest version with PI Dry arm warmers) is a great wind jacket with water resistance now. While these wind shells are not intended to be a “rain jacket,” the PI Dry treatment will prevent water from soaking you and your jacket. Don’t worry, the water-resistance treatment won’t wash off, as it coats the fiber before making the fabric as opposed to a spray-on finish after assembly. Or the new Torrent WxB Jacket, which is our lightest and most packable waterproof breathable pieces, would keep you drier in longer periods of rain but still breathable to avoid becoming poached egg-like. But also a great additional layer for those cooler months in the winter. Hope that helps.

      Zephrr: https://www.pearlizumi.com/US/en/shop/men/outerwear/road/mens_zephrr_barrier_jacket/p/111320066RM
      Torrent: https://www.pearlizumi.com/US/en/shop/men/outerwear/road/mens_torrent_wxb_jacket/p/111320026KW

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